Friday, December 10, 2021

Battery technology: australian start-up Vulcan Energy buys German geothermal power station

 Source Der Spiegel:

The Australian lithium start-up Vulcan Energy is pushing ahead with its plans to extract the element that is important for battery production in Germany. Vulcan's German subsidiary is buying a geothermal power plant in the Upper Rhine Valley for around 31.5 million euros. As the company announced, it will take over the power plant from the regional energy supplier Pfalzwerke. A first pilot plant for the production of lithium hydroxide is to be put into test operation at the geothermal power plant in Insheim in the Palatinate.

Vulcan is working on the supply of lithium to Volkswagen and other European automakers such as Opel parent company Stellantis. You have already placed orders because lithium is needed in the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. From the point of view of experts, however, the company still has to prove that its idea for lithium extraction actually works financially lucrative enough on a large industrial scale.

In the Upper Rhine Rift, there is a lot of lithium dissolved in thermal water thousands of meters deep. The water is already pumped to generate electricity and heat. Vulcan Energy wants to use the high lithium content of the salty liquid to dissolve the element and make it usable. At the same time, the extracted thermal water is to be used to generate energy and thus make lithium production CO2-neutral. Vulcan Energy plans an extraction process that uses less land, groundwater and energy than the existing methods of open pit and brine evaporation ponds.

However, there is also skepticism among investors as to whether the Vulcan Energy idea will even work. High investments are necessary to turn it into a viable business. Volkswagen also tied its long-term supply agreement with the company to the condition that the German Vulcan subsidiary can also successfully start commercial production of lithium in 2026.

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